Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Interview Competency

How ‘competent’ are your organisations interviews?
By Mark Leonard, CIPD, Recruitment Manager at Contract People Limited


When recruiting an organisation will use various styles when it comes to interviewing regardless of their size and industry as most employers recognise the right recruitment practises are vital to ensure continuous organisational success. Many people are involved in the interview and selection process within organisations however, the question is are all these persons aware of and skilled in the principles of best practice?

Commonly regarded as best practise in interviewing today is the ‘competency – based’ (also sometimes known as ‘behavioural’ or ‘situational’) interviewing which is simply geared towards separating the suitable candidates from the unsuitable who do not have the appropriate skills or experience. The theory behind competency interviewing is that past work behaviour is a good predictor of future job performance in similar situations. Competency interviewing is said to be to be 55% predictive of future on-the-job behaviour, whilst traditional interviewing is often only 10% predictive based. (Katherine Hannon, Ph.D., “Behavioural interviewing strategies for job seekers”, Quintcareers.com).
A CIPD 2008 survey of recruitment practices showed that interviews based on the contents of the curriculum vitae/application forms were found to be the most frequently used selection method (72%) followed then by competency based interviews (65%). Using competency techniques help provide information regarding predictive performance but also a well structured interview gives candidates a positive impression of the company and also projects positivity to those unsuccessful candidates with whom we still hope will be our future customers.
So what exactly are competency interviews? Competency questions focus on past events in a candidates working life and are designed to focus on critical incidents. As the interviewer you are hoping to hear of occasions when the candidate can demonstrate the ability or behaviour most relevant to the job for which they are applying. For example, ‘Tell me about a time when you had to show resilience to respond to decreasing sales?’ or ‘Tell me about a time when you had to make a difficult decision that directly affected your department?’.

The interviewer can then ask more probing questions to establish circumstances, reaction and what action each individual personally took. In posing these types of questions the interviewer is looking for evidence that candidates can act decisively with the assumption then made that when put in a similar situation this person will display the same behaviour in the future. It is essential that when using these types of questions that they are based on person specifications as agreed with line managers and ideally through discussions with the current holder of the job.

Dangers of unprepared, unstructured or untrained interviewers:

The limitations of an unprepared interview are that it will offer a poor prediction of that candidate’s ability to perform in the job as information is gathered in an unsystematic manner. This can result in poor judgements being made on candidates for a variety of reasons as referred to by Anderson and Shackleton in their book ‘Successful selection interviewing’, which identified consequences such as:

  • - The self-fulfilling effect: Interviewers ask questions designed to confirm initial impressions of candidates gained either before the interview or in its early stages.
  • - The stereotyping effect: Interviewers sometimes assume that the particular characteristics are typical of members of a particular group. In the case of sex, race, disability, marital status or ex-offenders, whereby decisions made on this basis are often illegal.
  • - The halo and horns effect: Interviewers sometimes rate candidates as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ across the board and then reach unbalanced decisions.
  • - The contrast effect: Interviewers can allow the experience of interviewing one candidate affect the way they interview others.
  • - The similar to me effect: Interviewers can sometimes give preference to candidates they perceive as having similar backgrounds, career history, personality etc to themselves.
  • - The personal liking effect: Interviewers may make decisions on the basis of whether they like or dislike the candidate.

Hiring the wrong person can cost businesses thousands in wasted productivity and time however despite this some organisations do not invest the time to rectify and address the key step in the selection process - the interview!

Case study:
A research study by Steve Newhall, Vice President for Europe at global talent management consultants DDI in April 2009 of more than 1,900 interviewers and 3,500 jobseekers across the world found that whilst interviews are almost always part of the recruitment process many organisations are not using them effectively with almost half of these interviewers (47%) spending less than 30 minutes making hiring decisions.
These interviewers are in danger of exposing their companies to legal challenge with almost half unable to correctly identify illegal questions around ethnicity, sexuality, parental issues or marital status.
Staying on the correct side of the law scored lowest on the interviewer’s lists of concerns, with just 5% of global interviewers ranking it as a significant concern.So what did interviewers worry about? Two thirds said they fretted about missing candidates weaknesses, whilst half weren’t sure they had enough information to make a sound hiring decision.
The perceptions of the jobseekers were that the top turn offs for them during interviews were techniques that felt more like interrogations (43%) and taking too long to provide feedback (42%). However jobseekers felt interviewers were doing a good job in interpersonal areas such as courteousness, professionalism and openness to answering questions. An unenthusiastic and poor interviewer was seen as a negative sign of what it might be like to work in that organisation.
The key learning points from this research showed:
  • - Interviewers are making precarious hiring decisions,
  • - Unprofessional interview behaviour will jeopardise an organisations reputation
  • - Training for interviewers will increase perceived company professionalism
  • - Effective interviews help the best candidates get the job.

How to structure your interview process?

Through structuring the interview interviewers can also help improve their ability to predict performance in the job, a structured interview will ensure that:

  • - Questions are planned carefully in advance relevant to the role
  • - All candidates are asked the same questions
  • - Answers are scored using a consistent rating system
  • - Questions are focused on the skills, attributes and behaviours needed in the job

This can make both the interviewer and interviewee feel at ill ease. So a less formal ‘semi structured’ approach should be used to follow up questions as the interview progresses.

Guidelines on how to structure interviews and question styles:

1. Structure your questions:

If questions don’t relate to each other then candidates will become confused and defensive so have a clear structure to help reach where you’re looking to go to. Adopt the same approach for all candidates to get a true assessment that can be compared with other candidates. If there are differences in questions some candidates may get asked more interesting and dynamic questions than others, therefore giving unfair advantage.

2. Learn to listen:

The key to your listening skills is self awareness, look at the verbal and non verbal signals you give off such as posture – are you facing the speaker squarely, maintaining eye contact, relaxed with an open posture?Show you’re listening by nodding or shaking your head, summarising what the candidate is saying and build on what has been said. Ask listening questions for example: ‘What happened next?’, ‘How did you feel about that?’ etc.

3. Open and closed questions:

Try not to use closed questions where possible, questions that provoke a yes or no response, give candidates the opportunity to expand on their answer, by using words such as - how, why, who, where and when?Avoid using counter productive questions that can detract or undermine the purpose of asking questions that suggest a ‘right’ answer as this can mislead or confuse the candidate also known as leading questions (A favourite of barristers) which prompt a desired answer such as ‘You’ve got to admit that…?’. Try to keep questions concise and to the point, avoid ambiguous questions that might lead to confusion and need further explanation in order for the candidate to fully understand.

4. Pressure questions:

These are not aimed to trip applicants up, rather to gauge their reaction to pressure and their ability to think on their feet, such as:

  • - What are your weaknesses?
  • - How would your colleagues and/or subordinates describe you?
  • - How long would it take you to make a realistic contribution to our business?
  • - What are the most important issues facing our industry at the moment?
  • - What are the worst aspects of your current job?

Common interviewer errors:

  • - Losing focus; stick to asking key job related questions? Are any of the questions unjustifiably intrusive?
  • - Ignoring the specification; avoid comparing the candidates against each other rather than the job specification, where no one meets the specification appointments shouldn’t be made.
  • - Snap judgements; judging the candidate far too quickly, often in the first few seconds.
  • - Organisational reliance; some interviewers may put too much reliance on where the candidate has been working and may attribute dynamism to person on the reputation of the organisation they work in when in fact they may have been swept along in a tide of organisational high performance rather than have created it themselves.
  • - Concentration lapses; concentration spans may follow patterns of sharp dips in the middle section, peaks of concentration occur in the first and last five minutes.
  • - Not checking up on facts; a surprising number of people lie on their CV’s about experience and qualifications which can have serious consequences if not picked up, not only performance related but may also expose the organisation to legal action from aggrieved parties if misconduct occurs.

So in summary, a structured, well-prepared interview by a trained member of your team helps ensure your organisation makes the best hiring decision possible in the most efficient manner whilst also protecting your business from potential legal issues. It is worth considering especially in these challenging economic times, the damage that can affect your business from the negativity associated with a poor and unprepared interview. Indeed, the larger your organisation, the larger the pool of people who may possibly endure a negative experience at the hands of an unskilled interviewer.


About Mark Leonard, Recruitment Manager, Contract People Limited:

Mark joined Contract People in 2008 as Recruitment Manager, previously he has worked in recruitment and HR roles within the hospitality, retail, recruitment and FMCG sectors. Mark holds a degree in HRM and Industrial Relations and has full membership of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).


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